Life under lockdown
Three weeks since social distancing became a driver of our existence, school closed and working from home whilst acting the parent-teacher was normalised. As a writer, has my routine changed much? Unlike the majority of the population, I was already working from home. I had the equipment and the set up. Most of all, I had the space and the silence. My morning routine involved saying goodbye to Husband and Child, making my way to the same coffee shop to do emails and plan the next workshops before coming home to write for the rest of the day. Husband would be in work for the regulatory five hours. Child would be in school until I retrieved him at 3.30pm. The day was a long, unified stretch, uninterrupted. When I was asked about my creative process, I talked about the importance of protecting this space where ideas formed on the page, silence. Virginia Woolf's Room of One's Own comes to mind.
So what has changed. After breakfast, we now go for our government-approved walk around the neighbourhood. Afterwards, Husband commandeers the lounge for a seemingly endless succession of Skype calls, whilst Child and I sit in the kitchen, trying to make sense of the instructions left by teachers on an online portal for homeschooling. For three hours, I attempt (and fail) to mimic school. There is arguments, frustration, occasionally shouting, as we come to recognise we are both playing roles for which we were never cast.
So how does it feel? For the first few weeks, I felt a constant sense of anger at the injustice of being dumped with the teaching duties; anger at the infringement on my writer's space; anger at the general chaos that comes with well-meaning loved ones who fail to understand the creative process (mine at least) requires long-stretches of uninterrupted silence.
In the background, venues I had booked for workshops closed and classes had to be cancelled. When my editor returned the manuscript for Little White Lies with pages of corrections to be made, I tried to lock myself behind closed doors. Every time a face peeped through the door of my bedroom/office, I felt like screaming. I tried to explain that editing requires absolute concentration, but in vain. (As I write this, Husband just walked in with an ice cream for me. Oh, Thoughtful Husband! Oh, Ungrateful Wife!)
Slowly, our situation morphed into a sort of long holiday at home, playing with the dog and running around the back garden - Husband literally ran a half marathon around the patch of dirt at the back of our house. I was watching him gyrating like a lost automaton when it hit me. We had all reached a state of suspension, making do until 'normal' could resume. As I sat each afternoon, listening to the daily count of new victims with a certain morbid fascination, I saw my shoulders dropping in disappointment at the news numbers had not yet started to decline. I wanted to hear that the storm had passed.
What I failed to recognise was that COVID-19 is not a crisis, but a watershed. I see now that the way we conducted our lives 'before' is defunct. How we work, live, interact with others, all those things have been thrown up in the air and will need to be redesigned. I heard this morning that the common denominators in successful artists is our ability to sustain long periods of uncertainty. What COVID-19 provides is an opportunity to create something new.
So what does it mean for me as a writer. In the immediate future, it is about designing new routines which integrate the reality of a house where Husband, Child and the dog compete for attention. It might mean getting up a little sooner to write before they wake up or finding ways to better combine our activities.
I have instituted a Quiet Hour after lunch when Child reads a book and I can do some writing. I am using my phone to do emails whilst he uses the computer to do his school work in the morning, and I reclaim the computer in the afternoon whilst he does arts and crafts (including Minecraft!). Instead of working in compact hours over five days, we work in smaller bursts, stretched across the whole week. When it is too loud for me to write, I take the opportunity to submit existing writing to competitions and to set up new projects.
I am currently testing online workshops with my writers' group and working with local libraries and bookshops to offer online events more broadly. We are in constant communication and developing a strong virtual community. We plan to release an anthology later this year.
So has life as a writer changed as a result of the lockdown? It was a little stressful at first, until I shifted my perspective and started to look at the creative opportunities. I read this morning that e-books and audio-books exploded on the Spanish market over the past few weeks. To an extent the Coronavirus has only accelerated the change we had already witnessed in the publishing world. Agents and publishers are reporting an increase in submissions as people finally find the time to polish that novel that was sleeping at the back of the drawer. If this is you, get in touch to join the next round of Virtual Creative Writing Workshops.